10 Actionable Tips For Planning Your Event
Chapter One: How To Plan An Event
The moment you decide to organise and host an event, you’re entering an event management cycle - which can be split into five stages:
- Planning the event: From idea to action plan.
- Organising the event: From action plan to execution.
- Promoting the event: Spreading the word and selling tickets.
- Hosting the event: Making sure things run smoothly on the day.
- After the event: Thank yous and follow ups.
It’s called a “cycle," because it tends to start all over again: You use your findings from the last event to start planning your next one. (Unless, of course, you’re only planning a one-off event.)
Over the course of five articles, we’ll take a closer look at each of the stages. In every article, we’ll give you specific, “go do this now" steps you can implement right away.
Today’s chapter is all about planning your event. Let’s go!
Planning your event
This is where it starts. Maybe you already have a very specific idea for an event. Or maybe you only know that you’d like to organise one and need a bit of inspiration.
Either way, great! It's time to figure out how to plan an event from scratch.
This stage is all about outlining the essentials and answering these key questions:
What’s the purpose of my event?
This will give you a clear focus for the coming stages and help you prioritise.
Who’s the target audience?
This will affect your communication strategy, which channels you use, your tone of voice, and so on.
How will you make it happen?
This is about putting together a plan for the coming steps. Do you have a team or will you do things on your own? What are the must-haves and what’s only nice to have?
You should be coming out of this stage with a solid action plan and a clear idea of what to do next.
10 things you can do right now
Here are 10 event planning steps you can implement immediately.
1. Need inspiration? Start a conversation!
By far the best way to get out of your bubble and find a ton of fresh ideas is to quite literally ask for them. Luckily, the Internet makes this incredibly easy.
It’s easier than it might sound. Take Quora.com, for example. Asking a question there is truly as easy as 1, 2, 3:
- Register an account (it takes minutes, if not seconds)
- Post your short question. How about: "I’d like to organise an [insert event type]. Could you share some ideas on themes and fun activities I might consider?"
- Wait for replies to roll in.
You’re almost guaranteed to get at least a few responses, which may lead to further questions and insights. This approach works just as well on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. Give it a try!
2. Put purpose to paper
Once you have a clear idea of what your event is about, write down a single sentence that describes its purpose. Something like:
"I’m organising this [specific event] because [reason]" or "My goal with this [specific event] is to [purpose]."
Keep editing until the sentence perfectly captures your true motivation. Ideally, it should be something you’re really passionate about.
Print the sentence out in big, bold letters and a creative font, if you’re feeling fancy. Hang it somewhere where you’ll see it on a daily basis. This will keep you focused and give you the energy to keep going.
3. Discover your "ideal" guest
What’s your perfect event guest? What does he/she do, and why are they attending? Knowing exactly who is going to your event is key to crafting a great message and getting more people to show up.
So how do you find that elusive “ideal" guest? Why, you make a so-called “event persona"!
Picture a typical person attending your event. Give them a name that reflects their personality (e.g. "Party Pete"). Write down their age, gender, motivations, key traits, and a short bio. You might end up with a card that looks like this example from SEO Savvy:
Giving your guests a face and a “life" helps you remember that you’re organising the event for real people with real hopes and expectations.
The persona can be as detailed or simple as you like. The important thing is that it gives you a relatable guest to focus on. Here’s a fantastic tool that lets you design personas - completely free.
This should be plenty to get you started, but if you want to do a deep dive here’s a great guide to building personas.
4. Find the perfect #hashtag
No, a hashtag isn’t just a gimmick. (Even though it may often feel like it.)
A great hashtag will capture the essence of what your event is about in a short, catchy way. This will:
- Help you focus while planning your event.
- Instantly tell your guests what they’re in for.
As you’ll see in later chapters, you can use your hashtag a lot during the "organise" and "promote" stages.
Stuck? Try something like this super simple tool.
What it does is transform a sentence you type - your event name or a slogan or a catchphrase - into a few different hashtag formats. Not exactly rocket science. But it also scans Twitter for any current mentions of a hashtag to make sure you’re not coming up with something already in use. You don’t want to be competing for attention with other events and activities.
5. Make a venue shortlist
While you don’t have to settle on a venue just yet, this is a great time to put together a shortlist.
Boot up your spreadsheet of choice - Excel, Google Sheets, or other - and jot down all of the local venues you think are a good fit. Now, to help you narrow down the list, add the following columns for each of them:
- Cost. How much does the venue itself cost? What does it charge for any potential extra services you might need?
- Location. How easy it is for your attendees to find and reach the venue. Can your performers and catering providers get there without much hassle?
- Services. Some venues offer their own bar or catering services. Do you want to take advantage of this? If your event involves music performances or presentations: How are the acoustics and is there sound equipment? What about insurance and parking options?
- The vibe. You’re the best judge here. Some venues are simply not made for certain events. You wouldn’t hold an indie gig in a hotel conference hall, right?
- Capacity. How many guests do you expect? Check the venue’s max capacity and any restrictions to make sure it’s not too stuffy or too airy.
This handy tool helps you quickly estimate how many people you can fit in a venue based on different room layouts. It’s ideal for conferences and trade shows but can also help with many other event types. If you’re in the United Kingdom, it can even help you find a specific venue for your needs!
6. Put together a quick budget
Far from the most glamorous task, we’ll give you that. But having a budget is essential to prioritise your spending, figure out how much you can invest in promotion, and decide what to charge for tickets.
Again, a simple spreadsheet program goes a long way. Start with the following fields:
- Item: The specific expense.
- Description: A few more details about the expense.
- Vendor: Provider of the goods or services.
- Estimated cost: What you expect to spend on it.
- Actual cost: Once you’ve settled on the final price, this will help you see if you’re staying on track.
You might add additional fields for notes and other details later on, but this will do for now.
Perhaps the hardest part is remembering every single expense. While the final list depends on your event, here are a few typical ones to get you started:
We also recommend budgeting for unexpected costs, so you’re not caught off guard later. You’ll end up with something like this:
You now have a solid overview of your budget and a reference for future planning efforts. If you’re stuck, Microsoft offers a few online templates for making budgets.
7. Settle on a date
This is important. It helps you set cut-off deadlines for planning activities and gives you a milestone to aim for.
Things to consider when picking the event date:
- Major holidays. Unless yours is a holiday-themed event, you don’t want it clashing with major public holidays. Think of what your event persona is likely to do during this particular holiday. (They might go home for Easter, but like to go out and party on St. Paddy’s Day.)
- Other events. Do some Google search for large local events. Is there a festival that your potential guests are likely to attend instead of your event? Is there a major sports competition happening in your area that might block access to the venue of your choice?>
Once you’ve picked a date, mark it clearly in your calendar. Consider printing it out and hanging it up next to your motivational sentence. This is it: Your event is really happening!
8. Visualise the day of your event
Picture the perfect day where everything goes off without a hitch. Do a sort of mental walkthrough of how that day would go. What’s the agenda? What is the atmosphere like? Are there performances, speeches, fun activities, food and drinks?
If it helps, write up a top-level event timeline with highlights of the day on a piece of paper. Like so:
- 7:00 Catering crew arrives.
- 8:00 Tables are set.
- 8:30 DJ takes the stage.
- 9:00 Doors open.
- ...and so on
The nitty gritty details are not so important now. You’ll very likely change this plan lots of times as some things fall into place while others fall through. The point here is to give a sense of reality to your upcoming event.
This sort of mental exercise is also invaluable for indirectly catching something you’ve missed. As you picture your guests dancing to an upbeat tune, you may suddenly remember to check whether the venues on your shortlist even have dance floors in the first place.
9. Assemble your team
You now have a venue shortlist, a budget, and a rough plan for the day. Here comes that crucial question: Who’s helping you make all of this happen?
Some of you might be flying solo, and that’s just dandy. Others will want a core team of people helping them organise and host the event.
Start putting names on the different activities you’ve already planned and written down. Who will be responsible for negotiating with the venue? Who’s in charge of catering? On the day of the event, who’ll be manning the doors and scanning tickets?
As we mentioned, venues will often have catering and other staff available to help out with your event. This could be an advantage on the day - they know the ins and outs of the place and are used to hosting all sorts of events.
Another great option is to put together a package that might help you get volunteers. People interested in your event’s keynote speakers or the performing band will often be happy to help in exchange for - say - free tickets.
Knowing your team and event staff in advance will make the rest of the process run far more smoothly.
10. Grab a step-by-step planning checklist
Now it’s time to get organised and prepare for the next stage. You should map out the steps from here on out.
Guess what? There's no need to reinvent the wheel. You're not the first person wondering how to plan an event. You’ll find countless checklist that walk you through the critical steps of planning and managing your event. Here’s one from us to get you started.
Set aside just 10-15 minutes. Look through all the checklist items and figure out how they apply to your event. If you’re working with a team, get everyone together to go through the checklist. Add other relevant items and remove those you don’t need.
You now have a game plan. It’s time to put it into action. How, exactly? That’s the topic of the next chapter.
- For a good look at what not to do, check out "Avoid These 5 Event Planning Mistakes"
- For a thorough checklist on catering, check out "Your One-Stop Checklist for Catering Events"
- Here’s a great list of persona templates: "11 Persona Templates for Starters and Where to Download"
- Guide to creating a great event hashtag: "5 Tips on How to Create a Hashtag for an Event"
- More about event budgeting: "Create And Track Your Event Budget Flawlessly"
- Tips on finding volunteers: "How to Find Superstar Volunteers For Your Next Event"
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